How New Hire Orientation Fuels Employee Engagement

by Daniel Hannig

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. That doesn’t just apply to meeting your partner’s parents–an employee’s first day at a new job either confirms or contradicts their preconceptions about their company. Walking through the doors of a new workplace triggers a complicated mix of feelings (anxiety, excitement, pride), and companies looking to enhance employee engagement should acknowledge this unique circumstance.

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Unfortunately, most companies don’t appreciate the importance of welcoming their new employees. A full 50% of small businesses don’t have any kind of structured new hire orientation, and a quarter of companies admitted that their orientation doesn’t include any training. For too many companies, orientation (also referred to as “onboarding”) is an afterthought. Once the perfect candidate for a position is hired, they’re often thrown into a job and a workplace culture that forces them to sink or swim. This old fashioned approach can have far-reaching costs.

Without a proper introduction, it’s hard to understand the intangibles of a new office that aren’t typically covered during the interview process. Is your new company formal, reserved, and hierarchical? Or is it more fluid, collaborative, and casual? Do people usually go for lunch together, or at staggered times? Do they eat at their desks? On top of learning the ins and outs of a new job, figuring out the social cues from your new colleagues can be stressful and disorienting.

Every office operates differently. Something as simple as learning how to print notes for your first meeting can be an opportunity to make a new friend, or it might turn into an embarrassing fiasco. Giving new employees the information, tools, and support to feel like they belong increases their engagement and, in turn, their productivity.

Organizations with a standard orientation process experience 50 percent greater new-hire productivity. Why does onboarding boost employee engagement? Let’s take a look.

New hires know where they stand within the company

“People want to know they matter and they want to be treated as people. That’s the new talent contract.” – Pamela Stroko in Tanveer Naseer’s blog post How Leaders are Creating Engagement in Today’s Workplaces

People want to feel valued. However, sometimes it can be hard to see how your individual contributions affect the overall success of the company. If your position isn’t customer-facing, or if it’s highly specialized, you may not see how your projects are creating value and generating revenue for the company. When that context is missing, workers can feel removed from the overarching vision and mission of their employer. They might wonder, “Is this project really going to move the needle?” Over time, this can lead to employees becoming disengaged from their work. Nearly 33% of new hires look for a new job within their first six months, so the new job honeymoon might not last as long as you think.

Orientation can stop this disengagement before it starts. When they see where their department fits in the overall structure, and how their contributions contribute to your strategic vision for the organization, they’ll see that their everyday tasks matter.

Instead of a generic, one-size-fits-all approach for new employees, make sure that new talents learn how their specific department and area of expertise affect your whole company. Show employees an organizational chart that illustrates where their department sits, and what other departments they will likely be working with. You can also try role-switching training exercises–for example, maybe engineers are tasked with a marketing activity–so that employees can see the value other functions bring to their work.

Don’t wait until your new employee’s first day to start this orientation, either. Send them relevant information before they step foot in the door: their onboarding paperwork, directions to the office (Google Maps is nice, but personalized directions are nicer), and an overview of their new team. Starting a dialogue with a new employee before they arrive will make them feel more confident in the organization and efficiency of their workplace.

Natural leaders will reveal themselves

“You do not lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

While some orientation group activities might seem a bit silly, they can highlight those new hires that have natural leadership qualities. If one new employee is regularly speaking on behalf of the group, coming up with solutions to problems, or naturally delegating tasks to appreciative teammates, they are probably pretty comfortable in their own skin. Finding these natural leaders early comes with several advantages:

First, they can help other new employees in their onboarding cohort settle in. Some hires might be too shy to ask longtime employees basic questions about the office, or share their worries, while they could easily approach a peer. Natural leaders might organize events outside of the office for their orientation group, helping all new hires to get to know each other and feel more relaxed.

Identifying and recognizing natural leaders early keeps them engaged and invested in your company. 63% of employees don’t feel like their managers give them enough recognition. Recommending a new employee for leadership development training out of their orientation will make them feel seen, heard, and valued. Catching managerial attention so early will motivate these hires to work hard to maintain their good reputation and qualify for added responsibility and promotions in the future.

Recognition doesn’t take a whole lot of effort, either. Simply acknowledging a good job or a motivating attitude will help the natural leaders, and all members of your orientation group, feel appreciated and respected.

New Hires Won’t Feel Like a Burden on their Coworkers

What happens if there is no onboarding plan? In most companies, new talents are paired with employees to job shadow for at least a few days before heading out on their own. While it can be reassuring to meet someone so tightly connected to their own role, it creates a dynamic where the person they’re now most comfortable asking questions of is already preoccupied with their own job.

Job shadowing is always a little awkward, too. Take a moment to look back on your own experiences: Instead of meeting your new colleague in a relaxed, natural setting–like going out for drinks or grabbing a burger–new employees are likely spending entire days watching them work and only contributing in minor ways. If your trainer gets busy, you can feel powerless to help them because you don’t quite know how to do your job yet, and you might feel discomfort in depending on them while being unable to lighten their load.

It doesn’t only disengage new talents. Employees tasked with one-on-one training often have all the same tasks to accomplish as they normally do, coupled with the responsibility of training someone new. They feel spread thin and guilty for not having the time to give as thorough a training as they would like–and remember, they’ve been in this exact position before, sometimes recently. New hires can feel like they are in the way, and trainers will feel overwhelmed.

Most frightening of all: new employees in an informal training may never ask important, basic questions in order to avoid taking up more of a busy person’s time. They might start their employment at your company acting on faulty assumptions, only to find out that they have been doing something wrong for months.

Combat this scenario with a more holistic approach to preparation for the arrival of a new hire: Find out whether their shadowing can be broken up and administered by two or more coworkers. And prepare for the shadowing period by easing the workload on their trainers, spreading some of their responsibilities amongst their colleagues for the duration of the shadowing period.

The business case for a structured orientation is simple: a great orientation leads to better prepared employees. Better prepared employees are more engaged in their work, more productive, and stick around longer, eventually saving the company money in employee turnover.

Below are some creative ideas for your new employee onboarding:

  • Sign a welcome card from the whole team for new employees.
  • Arrange a “buddy lunch”: pair your new hire with someone with similar interests or from the same hometown.
  • Introduce new employees to the CEO or Founder of the company.
  • Get employees to interact with your product. Collect their feedback. Have them listen to a customer service call.
  • Take them on a tour of the local lunch spots and office hangouts.
  • Organize a meet-and-greet for spouses and families.

You can learn more about developing a creative onboarding process in our previous post 5 Onboarding Ideas To Inspire Your Team.

How does your company introduce new hires into their jobs? Share your examples on the comments below.


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